Posted in general education, homeschool, more seeds, parents, reflection, special education

The Week in Review: Gardening, Growing and Gratitude

This Week’s Posts

I hope you have been following along with my back-to-school endeavors to maintain balance so I can do right for myself, my family and my students. If you’re just joining us, fear not! Here’s what we did last week…

Launching a Workshop Model in High School

For the past two weeks, I’ve worked on my new workshop schedule, trying it out with the kids after dabbling during summer school. I really think it will be a good way to keep kids engaged, no matter where they are. They like independence, with just enough support – and not too much talking! We’re going to a reduced day (5.5 hrs) instead of our early dismissal schedule at noon from the last two weeks. In the afternoon, I’ll add more hands-on tasks: digital journaling, garden work, science experiments… Stay tuned.

Getting in that Garden…

We had a few thundershowers this week, so I had to spend less time watering the new hydrangeas that my youngest son brought home from work for me. In the garden, I thought a lot about the things that nurture my soul:  teaching troubled teens, spending time in prayer and study, and time in the garden. Taking time to care for yourself is important in unpredictable times such as these. I hope you remembered to schedule it in your day.

I don’t garden because I’m the world best gardener – I’m not. I don’t have a good track record with houseplants, for example. They REALLY must have a sense of humor – and not mind being grazed on by cats. Here’s a shot of my new palm that sits behind me in my office. It just screams, “Please, chew on me!”

I DO love gardening, but not because I raise enough food on a quarter acre to feed my family through the zombie apocalypse. This year, between spring slugs, unbearable heat and weeks with little rain, I have managed to grow salad greens, arugula, a few cherry tomato plants and some herbs. Last weekend, I stuck some ornamental cabbage and kale in the ground, and planted one last round of beans, radishes and lettuce – fall gardening, to the rescue!

Gardening gives me (and my students) peace. Something about digging in the soil, the smell of the basil in the morning, the feeling of the sunshine on my back, the music of the warblers, cicadas and spring peepers. It’s the way a catbird eyes me and follows me as I weed, snagging grubs or beetles that I toss to the side. Kids and adults benefit greatly from getting outside in the garden. 

Peace and Gratitude

In the garden, I feel God’s presence. I see evidence of His qualities in what he created: beauty, and mathematics, and patterns, and music, and warmth, and freshness, and renewal. I can talk to Him, and He answers me with a breeze, in a slowly circling  buzzard, or a butterfly on a bit of clover.

A friend loaned me her son’s UCONN pompom to cheer on my colleagues on the first day of school. I’m waving it for YOU now! You’ve got this! Even Chiquita thinks so… {Image credits: (c) 2020, Kim M. Bennett

“Life-fulfilling work is never about the money – when you feel true passion for something, you instinctively find ways to nurture it.” ~ Eileen Fisher, Fashion Designer

School and Life Shopping for the Week

Admit it, teacher-friends: between back-to-school and COVID stay-at-home orders and quarantines, we have all developed a heavy-duty Amazon addiction. Sorry not sorry. I put some items in my overstuffed Amazon cart this week:

I’ve also been shopping for my new journaling love: washi tape. If you haven’t starting using it, I will warn you: once you do, you’ll want to put washi tape on anything you write. One of my girls saw me using it, and I just had to give her a roll. She is currently using it to bedazzle her Chrome Book.

Check Out These New Features:

  • This Week, in Five Photos: This week, you’ll see a recap of my adventures in the garden;
  • Planner Pointers: Pop over to read how I focused on starting my day with a statement of gratitude.

Posted in general education, homeschool, more seeds, outdoor education, parents, reflection, social-emotional, special education, spirit

This Week, in Five Photos: In the Garden

Gratitude, Growth and Gardening

This week, I headed outside into the garden, both at home and at school with my students. The garden was a source of peace and connection with the world for me, and some much needed break from screens and keyboards for my students.

School Garden Curriculum
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At this writing, my fall radishes, lettuce and beans are already up, and the raised bed at school is awaiting cleaning and planting. I purchased The School Garden Curriculum for lesson ideas. The compost bins at school will be set up and ready to go for the fall, and the kids are using their new Google Docs skills to research and share ideas for planting their fall garden. Stay tuned!

On a personal note, my husband had his 8-month check up post heart transplant (January 21, 2020). He (and the new heart!) got a big gold star for doing great. I AM grateful…

Looking Ahead to Next Week…

My students have always enjoyed journaling. I have been turning my journal pages into art therapy of a sort. I think I’m going to start electronic journals with the students next week, and refer to the components in my journal as we go, starting with morning gratitude statements.

Our essential question for our first month is “What Influences the Way You Act?” Last week, we talked about culture, and family, and personal choices based on character. We even connected the concept to the early European explorers, discussing reasons why someone would want to be an explorer (desire for adventure, skills at navigating, quest for fame and power, need to be the leader over something…). To connect art with this study, I made a note in my “post-it note brain” to start vision boards with the kids next week. Gotta gather up those old magazines…

“Write the vision and make it plain on tablets, that he may run who reads it. For the vision is yet for an appointed time; but at the end it will speak, and it will not lie. Though it tarries, wait for it; because it will surely come. It will not tarry” ~ Habakkuk 2:2

My Wish for You

I hope the week was a smooth, happy one for all of you. Enjoy your weekend, and remember: you are important in the lives of your students. You matter. You are working hard. I see you, and I love you.

Be well,

~ Kim

Posted in general education, homeschool, more seeds, parents, reflection, special education

Planner Pointers: Start Your Day With Gratitude

A Grateful Perspective

I once had an acquaintance who would say, “I’m grateful that I have an electric bill, because that means I have lights. I’m grateful to pay my rent, because that means I have a warm, dry place to sleep at night. I’m grateful for my bunions because it means I have feet. Some people don’t have any of those things.”

Gratitude does not mean ignoring the bad in life or pretending that your life is perfect. It means accepting it – no, being thankful for it – including the parts that are sad, unpleasant or disappointing, When you begin to approach each day on a positive note, and you do it over, and over, and over again, you begin to see a change in your whole outlook on life.

Be thankful for what you have. You will end up having more. If you concentrate on what you don’t have, you will never, ever have enough.

Oprah Winfrey

A Little Note of Gratitude

My planner has a place to write a morning message of gratitude. But you don’t have to have a printed space in order to write a gratitude statement. Find an unused square in your school-issued plan book, or jot a note at the top of the day’s page. Even a fancy post-it note at the top of the page works. The added bonus for the post-it is that, if you have to move it throughout the day to write in your plan book, you read the gratitude statement all over again, as a reminder!

Starting your day with a written note of gratitude can help shape the rest of your day in a positive way. {Image Credit: (c) 2020 Kim M. Bennett}

Be Honest… Be Grateful…

The friend I mentioned above didn’t try to get fancy with his gratitude. When you write statements, don’t feel the need to “dress them up.” Here are the things I was grateful for in August, as an example. You can kind of see the things we went through during August of 2020:

  1. The sound of crickets chirping in the early morning ~ reminds me of childhood.
  2. A new day.
  3. The freedom to get up early in the morning.
  4. Hot coffee.
  5. A tree fell on the house we USED to live in ~ and NOT the one we live in currently.
  6. Even when things have seemed hopeless, God has provided for all of our needs, “according to His riches in glory.” {Phil 4:19}
  7. Vacation.
  8. Extra sleep on Saturdays.
  9. A job that I love.
  10. The sounds of early morning: frogs, crickets, faraway traffic, a wren singing, “Teakettle! Teakettle! Teakettle!”
  11. New day – new ideas – new possibilities.
  12. Each day can be a “do over.”
  13. Living a life of gratitude.
  14. A restart after a not-so-good day before.
  15. Time to relax.
  16. Extra sleep.
  17. An extra early start (even though I didn’t choose it) – thanks to our dog.
  18. Quiet spaces to work and think.
  19. One more day of life.
  20. A family who loves me and takes care of me when I don’t feel well.
  21. A family who can manage things while I’m under the weather.
  22. Negative COVID test!
  23. A great night’s sleep.
  24. The excitement of getting up and writing every morning.
  25. Sunshine ~ because everything seems better when the sun is shining.
  26. Fresh autumn air in the morning.
  27. Being able to return to work.
  28. My son is feeling better and can go back to work soon.
  29. A day to rest when I don’t feel well.
  30. One more weekend day.
  31. The return of the students to the building ~ I’ve missed them!

I’m laughing about all the references to extra sleep. My normal day is 4:00 am to 9:00 pm. It’s a luxury for me to sleep until 6:00 am. I don’t often do it, even on no-work days.

Living a life of gratitude starts with one simple statement ~ “Today, I’m grateful for…” {Image credit: (c) 2020, Kim M. Bennett}

Your Challenge ~ 30 Days of Gratitude

Self Journal
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Don’t wait for the 1st of a month – start tomorrow. At the top of your planner, before you even begin the day, jot down one thing that you’re grateful for. Do this every day for 30 days. At the end of the month, see how much better you feel.

Namaste.

Posted in general education, homeschool, more seeds, reflection, special education

35 Things I Learned in 35 Years of Teaching

A Little About Me…

Yes, that’s right.

I’ve been an educator for 35 years. Over the course of my career I’ve had the following teaching assignments (in order):

reflection
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Working in the school garden as a STEM Coach. {Image Credit: (c) 2014, Kim M. Bennett}

Agricultural Educator

  • Intern at the Northeast Career Center and the Ohio School for the Deaf, and area elementary schools in Columbus, Ohio, as an agricultural educator;
  • Graduate Teaching Assistant, teaching non-majors introductory horticulture and plant identification classes at The Ohio State University;
  • Adjunct Instructor, teaching vocational agriculture to non-degree students at the Ratcliffe School of Agriculture at the University of Connecticut;
  • Trainer and Instructor, teaching Home Depot garden center employees introductory horticulture in the Northeastern United States.
reflections 
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My first Clinical Day Treatment School classroom. {Image Credit: (c) 2018, Kim M. Bennett}

Early Childhood Educator

  • Preschool teacher, working with 3- and 4-year-olds at the Willington Nursery Cooperative in Willington, Connecticut;
  • 1:1 Educational Assistant, working with a student with multiple disabilities at Center Elementary School in Willington, Connecticut;
  • Special Education Paraprofessional, working with 1st through 3rd grade students with mild to moderate disabilities at Center Elementary School;
  • Kindergarten Paraprofessional, Center Elementary School;
  • Dual Language Teacher, working with 3rd grade students in the Companeros Program at North Windham Elementary School in Willimantic, Connecticut.

Educational Consultant

  • Education Consultant and Team Coordinator, Early Intervention and Teaching and Learning Projects, State Education Resource Center, Middletown, Connecticut;
  • Independent Education Consultant, working with educators nationwide, at Northside Consulting.
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A presentation on vocabulary centers for 6th grade teachers. {Image Credit: (c) 2012, Kim M. Bennett (A Child’s Garden)}

Homeschooler

  • Homeschool teacher/assistant principal/chief cook and bottle washer, Grades 1-10… on to 11th grade next year…

STEM Coach and Consultant

  • STEM Consultant, New London Public Schools, working with grades K-12;
  • STEM Coach, Winthrop STEM Elementary Magnet School, New London, Connecticut, working with educators and students in grades K-5.
reflection
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My current Clinical Day Treatment School classroom. {Image Credit: (c) 2018, Kim M. Bennett}

Special Educator

  • Special Ed intern at York Correctional Institution and Carl Robinson Correctional Institution, working with adults with disabilities in all content areas;
  • Literacy tutor at CRCI, working with adults with reading disabilities;
  • Special Educator, working at Natchaug Hospital, with students grades 6-12 in an alternative, clinical day treatment setting for students with emotional, mental health and addiction issues.

It’s taken me a long time, but I know the place where I currently roost is where I’m supposed to be. It’s my favorite position of all my time as an educator.

Saturday homeschool… because the teacher was out sick without a sub for three days. {Image Credit: (c) 2014, Kim M. Bennett}

What I’ve Learned About Teaching

Here are 35 things I learned over 35 years of being an educator – in no particular order.

  1. If you want the pruners put back in the right place, trace their outline onto the pegboard with a Sharpie. Label the outline, “pruners.”
  2. Parents do the best they can with what they have.
  3. Some teachers get a “loaded” classroom, because those kids deserve the best instruction.
  4. It’s really okay to say that you don’t want to teach anymore.
  5. Teachers don’t like having new curriculum materials every two years. It makes them feel like new teachers all over again.
  6. All of us (kids and adults) learn new ideas better when we start with concrete objects.
  7. Incarcerated adults love succeeding at school.
  8. Some kids swear and act out because that’s the only power they feel like they have.
  9. Loving your students is a bittersweet part of the job.
  10. Being a second-language learner means you know one more language than most Americans – and that’s a strength.
  11. Rubrics are great for teaching, learning and assessment.
  12. Kids with behavior problems aren’t used to hearing about their strengths.
  13. People who are white can never really understand what it’s like to be a student of color in America.
  14. Teaching teachers is harder than teaching students of any age.
  15. When looking at data, there’s always a story behind the numbers.
  16. “Homeschool” isn’t “school at home.”
  17. Many kids learn just fine when they’re “unschooled.”
  18. Kids become attached to their teacher.
  19. New teachers sometimes need a shoulder to cry on, a reminder to eat, and chocolate.
  20. Teacher’s guides are not meant to be followed cover to cover.
  21. Little kids can understand big numbers – and we should let littles work with them.
  22. Elementary and Special Ed teachers need more confidence in science and math.
  23. Social studies = the forgotten subject in elementary schools.
  24. Finding a restaurant in the phone book is not an easy task for many students with disabilities.
  25. Teens find it more fun to swear in English than in their first language (whether Spanish, Creole or American Sign Language).
  26. It’s easier to remember scientific names if you set them to music.
  27. Preschoolers and college students both need to be reminded to eat right and go to bed on time.
  28. Stations and centers are fun for littles, teens and even adult learners (even though no one likes to call them “centers” with big kids).
  29. All kids can learn to love going to the library.
  30. Play is work for little kids.
  31. A good record-keeping system makes a SpEd teacher’s life much happier.
  32. For most kids, reading and writing happens spontaneously, when provided the right environment.
  33. Teachers are historically underpaid for what they do in the United States.
  34.  Gifted and talented kids need specialized instruction, too.
  35. Children will rise to meet the bar, however high (or low) you set it.

How About You?

What are some take-aways you’ve had, as an educator? Please share.

Posted in reflection

Summer Reflections: June Wrap-up

Looking Back on the End of the School Year

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wrapping up June 2018
June brought us through the end of the 2018-29 school year, and into summer… {Image Credit (c) 2017 Kim M. Bennett}

It’s the end of June. So much has happened… so many changes. This month has brought us, in a frenzy, from the classroom or homeschool room, from the resource room or staff lounge, to our homes and the great outdoors. Here’s a look back on a busy month.

“No More Teachers, No More Books…”

In the first half of June, we closed out another calendar year. In The Ritual of Ending the School Year, we reflected on the opportunity for growth presented by gradually letting the old school year go. As we began sorting through the remnants of an academic year, we took some time to sort and file and decrease clutter in Minimalism for Teachers.

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summer vacation is here
It’s summer time… time to send those children back to their parents…

“Hot Fun in the Summertime…”

For some of us, closing the classroom door means a couple of months of rest, recharging and much-needed refreshing, and time to reconnect with our own children. In “It’s Summer Vacation… They’re BA-ACK!” we see one comedian’s humorous take on what it’s like for us to spend all that extra time with our own kids. We get some ideas for fun outdoor activities that enrich and amuse kids of all ages in “Getting Outside with Children” and try our hand at some arts and crafts in “Summer Tie Dye for All Ages.” And we learned about online tools for finding free meals and ativities for kids during the summer months in Free Summer Meals in Your Area.

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outdoor learning
rest and relaxation
Gardening is a great summer activity for “recovering teachers” and summer scholars! {Image credit (c) 2015, Kim M. Bennett}

Summer Learning Ideas

Many of us continue teaching, in some form, during the summer months. In “Four Bible Study Activities,” we learn four techniques for engaging tweens and teens in Bible studies at home or in places of worship. Many of us who homeschool continue the school year into the summer ~”Homeschool Ideas: ‘A Child’s Garden‘”links us to my homeschool nature study posts for summer ideas.

Looking Ahead to 2019-20…

I know I’m not the only teacher who has taken a teacher’s edition to the beach… am I? Even as we’re unwinding from one school year, we start thinking about the next one. We start pulling out textbooks we think we want to use the next year (“The Tao of Choosing a Textbook“) and start pondering strategies we want to use in the coming year (“Ten Strategies to Jump-Start the Reluctant Writer“).

Taking Care of Yourself, Too…

No matter what we do in the summer, we take precious time to care for ourselves. In “Simple Daily Habits to Ignite Your Passion for Teaching,” we get ideas for filling our empty cup so we bring our best selves back to the classroom in the fall. It’s going to be a great year, 2019-20…

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summer vacation
beach time
Refresh… recharge… reconnect… it’s summer time. {Image credit (c) 2018, Kim M. Bennett}

Attention, All Educators… Summer e-Book Sale!

Whether you are new to notebooking or science journaling, or a veteran looking for some new ideas, check out my Summer e-Book Sale! Discounts on all summer items from 7/2/2019 to 7/5/2019, only.

Check out the Summer e-Book Sale at Teachers Pay Teachers (July 2-5, 2019 only)

{ This blog is features in Top 100 Special Education Blogs}

Posted in general education, homeschool, more seeds, reflection, special education

The Ritual of Ending the School Year

The End of the School Year is Here!

Well, it’s finally here – that long-awaited, simultaneously longed-for and dreaded, end of the school year.

If you’re like many students and educators, you already know the exact number of “go-to-bed-and-get-ups” until school’s out for the summer. I can even hear Alice Cooper singing right about now.

When it’s the end of the year, I always feel a bunch of things, all at the same time. I’m glad for the end of that downward spiral of behavior that seems to happen when the days get longer and the nights get warmer. I’m relieved that there will soon be no more Friday notes and PPT reports to prepare, no more testing, no more fights with the copier at the 11th hour, at least for a couple of months. I’m anxious for the well-being of my students, especially the ones who don’t do change very well. The end of the year also brings that renewed excitement as I begin to think about what was, what could have been, and what I hope for in the coming year.

For me, there’s a ritual feeling to the end of the school year. How about for you?

Time to (Re)Move Stuff

In the past year, I’ve moved a lot of things into a lot of places: my old school closed and I helped move its contents to another building; I moved my teaching materials into an empty room in my new school; I moved from the home we’ve lived in for the past fourteen years and into a house in another city. These moves taught me that people (errr… that would be me) keep too much stuff! 

One of my end of the year tasks now is throwing away stuff that I don’t need. If you need to clear the clutter, too, here three places to start:

  1. “File copies” of handouts ~ Don’t keep something if you can find it somewhere else. If you have the workbook, you can make more copies – IF you need them.
  2. Dog-eared novels ~ Make a springtime ritual out of giving away “well-loved” books to your students at the end of the year.
  3. Old textbooks ~ Just because you have a class set of textbooks doesn’t mean you should keep them. Pitch them or find a buy-back or donation program.
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The end of the year is a perfect time to get rid of what you don’t want, and organize what you want to keep. Image credit (c) 2015. Kim M. Bennett

Once I clear the clutter, it’s time to organize what I have left. The company I work for uses Toyota’s 5S process, where items are organized and the space they occupy is labeled. I used the peel-and-stick labels that you use to make tabs in notebooks. Labeling this way looks attractive, helps students be more independent, and encourages me to put things back where they belong (instead of on the windowsill behind my desk) at the end of the school day.

I also take time at the end of the year to move my base of operation back home. Things that I need to plan for the fall, summer school materials, and personal items that moved to school with me in August start to go home with me, a little each day, through the month of June.

Organizing My Thoughts

I find that April and May are my most creative planning months. I’m still in the thick of teaching, and writing new goals and objectives for my students. What they need is fresh in my mind, and I have ideas for how to meet their needs. If I wait until August, I have to remind myself what happened the year before.  The end of the year is the best time for me to start planning for next year!

I like to reflect on the year – what worked, what didn’t work… what I should begin doing, continue doing or stop doing. Sometimes I write these ideas down – I need to get better at that.

At the end of the year, I start to identify resources I want to use next year, and organize them using the 5S process. Image credit (c) Kim M. Bennett, 2018

While this is all fresh in my mind, I begin some long-range planning.

  • First, I choose the textbook(s) that I will use;
  • Next, I pace the textbook out for the school year;
  • Then, I determine the pages that I need to cover each day to complete the text.

Granted, things come up. But, if I do this long-range planning at the end of the year, it makes it easier for me to do my weekly and daily planning when I return in the fall.

I work in a self-contained special education room, in an alternative school setting, under the oversight of a large hospital system. We have a lot of tasks to do. I’m sure you do, too. My colleagues and I are taking some time at the end of the year to create a month-by-month schedule of tasks so that we can schedule classroom, school and corporate activities into our planning in the fall.

Restoring Balance

Teaching is hard work, especially if you are working with students with significant challenges and learning needs. It is easy to put yourself on a back burner for the sake of the students. At the end of the year, I need to actively put myself back into the equation, and restore balance in my life.

I love to garden, and usually start to work outside a little each day as soon as the weather permits. The flow of this spring activity helps me to slowly shift my focus from school life to family, home and self.

It also helps me to refill my empty cup.  We all need seasons of refreshing. For me, I’m currently finding joy and peace in my home and kitchen:

  • I revived my Amish friendship bread starter and am baking bread once or twice a week;
  • I like to brew my own kombucha – my most recent batch was a tasty dandelion and fennel brew;
  • I have a trip to the garden center planned, to pick out vegetables for the kitchen garden that I am planning for our new home.
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At the end of the school year, it’s time to revive hobbies that bring us joy. Image credit (c) Kim M. Bennett, 2019

I recently reconnected with the Women’s Ministry at my church. One of our tasks for the month was to keep a gratitude journal. Writing down what I am grateful for in the morning, then again in the evening, reminds me that there I am blessed in so many ways, even on the most frustrating of days. Even at the end of the school year when the kids slowly come unraveled.

Some Final Thoughts…

Ending things is hard. I find it easier at the end of the year if I leave on the last day with a short bucket list of things I want to do over the summer. Here are a few from mine:

  1. Build a book room at school with my colleagues.
  2. Start a kitchen garden in my front yard.
  3. Finish cleaning out my old house.
  4. Catch up on medical appointments.
  5. Read and write daily.

How Do You End the School Year?

What are your “end of the year” rituals? Share with us in the comments, below.